Archive for August, 2011

“Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure.  We get very little wisdom from success, you know.”

— William Saroyan

I returned home yesterday from Atlanta.  As I sat in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, waiting for time to board my flight, a man sitting near me asked if I would watch his bags while he used the restroom.  He disappeared for ten minutes and then returned, thanking me again and again for helping him out.  He was traveling alone, he told me — flying to Philadelphia to pick up his three-year-old grandson and bring him to visit for a month.  He went on to tell me that he had only recently moved south.  His wife had found a job in Georgia; and since he had been laid off, there was nothing to keep him in Philadelphia. ‘Nothing,’ I thought, ‘but a three-year-old grandchild who had to make the trip to be cared for by grandpa;’ but the unspoken part of the story was not worth telling.  This was a man who celebrated every moment of life, a man who had gained wisdom about what really matters from experiencing setbacks and learning to rise above them.  He spoke with enthusiasm about his love for his family, stopping briefly to take a call from “the boss,” his wife, who was helping him navigate air travel after many years on the ground.  He was unsure of how to manage checkpoints and boarding passes and the security regulations that have become a part of flying in America, but none of this mattered.  His focus was on his destination.  He was excited to be able to help his family.  The rest was of little consequence.

We’ve all heard that when life hands us lemons we should make lemonade, but how often do we run into someone who really does that?  I thought about how different our conversation might have been if my traveling companion had focused on the loss of his job, the move from his familiar place, and the troubles that were sending a little boy far from home to be cared for by his grandfather.  As we prepared to board our flight, this wise and positive man turned to my granddaughter.  “Appreciate your grandmother,” he instructed her, “and stay in school.  Do your best, and you can do great things.”  She smiled and waved as he grabbed his bags and joined the line of people waiting to be checked in.

Our encounter still is on my mind today; and I ask myself what sort of message I bring to the chance encounters in my own life.  Am I making lemonade?  Am I taking the time to share the wisdom that grows out of difficulty, or am I feeling sorry for myself and leaving my burdens on the shoulders of another person?  Every failure, every disappointment, every loss leaves us more aware of the things that really matter.  Let’s carry that message with us and focus on the things that truly count.

“If you can’t return a favor, pass it on.”

— Louise Brown

Yesterday I wrote about the way our love reaches from heart to heart and forms a web we can travel as we find the many different places we call home.  Today I am thinking about the way that web connects us all — how the loving thoughts and deeds that are part of our lives connect us, not only to the one who does the good deed, but to others we may not even know just yet.

My daughter-in-law has been recuperating from a minor surgery.  She is doing great, her life is not threatened in any way, but she is required to rest.  This is not easy for a dynamo like Lauren.  She is the one who always leads the way to adventure with her boundless energy and enthusiasm.  She has been a trooper, and we all know that having other people wait on her is about the most difficult thing in the world, especially as she has begun to feel a little better.

Watching her work so hard at taking it easy takes me back to the times when I was the impatient one who felt trapped in my own bed, straining my ears to hear the life that seemed just out of my reach.  I remember the things that helped me feel connected.  I remember the patience of my sweetheart in meeting my needs and tolerating my frustration when his efforts didn’t suffice to make me feel all better.

It occurred to me yesterday, as I watched one of Lauren’s friends take the time to come and wash her hair, that we really are connected by the good deeds done for us and those we pass on to others.  It is not likely that Lauren will, any time soon, have the opportunity to return the hair-washing favor for her friend; but when another friend is in need, it will be the good feeling of being cared for that will send her out with kindness to pay it forward.

Life is not about getting even and giving and taking only in a straight line between two people.  It is about the circles and spirals that spin outward from the heart of kindness received to the heart of need in another person.  The best way to return a kindness is to pay it forward and to think of the good deeds done in love for us by others we cannot repay.  I am thankful for this opportunity to share with someone I love all the good deeds that others have done for me.

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes
I awoke this morning to the realization that today will be my last day in Atlanta.  I’ve spent a week here watching my son, Max, and his family interact — being pulled into one of my homes away from home.  Home is where we love; and because that is true, Atlanta is a home that lives always in my heart.  But on the last day of my trip I find my thoughts turning to the other home of my heart — the one where I hang my hat daily, where I sit on the shore and call the ships to land at the end of each day, where my own bed waits for me to snuggle in and reach over to rub the curls on my sweetheart’s head as I drift off to sleep.

Love.  It is what connects us all, whether we are face-to-face or separated by the miles.  It is what motivates us to maintain those connections wherever we are.  It is what calls us home — wherever that home might be today.

As I dressed little Gus this morning, I told him, “I will miss you when I go back to my house tomorrow.”

“Will you cry?” he wanted to know.

“Nope.  No crying,” I answered.  “I will close my eyes and think of you and it will make me laugh.”

The hugs and cute sayings and shared time of my two little Atlanta boys already are stretching like strands of a spider’s web that reaches from Georgia all the way to Pennsylvania.  One end of the web is anchored in my heart and the other in the heart of their Grandpa who has planted the stories there and already is connected to these new parts of the love that continues to grow right along with the boys.

Tomorrow my heart will ache a little as I leave this part of my home behind; but I will follow the silver strands of love until I land once again at the other place that makes my heart sing.  Home.  It is wherever our hearts are filled with love.

“Celebrate your success and stand strong when adversity hits, for when the storm clouds come in, the eagles soar while the small birds take cover.”

There is a hurricane blowing through my hometown today.  Although I am far from home, I think about what it must be like to hear the wind howling and the rain falling in sheets of wind-whipped water.  A similar storm came through the same area when I was a little girl. It must have impressed me as a child, because I still can remember the sounds and smells of the storm, the muggy air that preceded it, and the river of muddy water that gushed down the street in front of my house.  We lost power and had to use candles to light the house.  Our whole family stayed inside, trusting our home to keep us safe and dry.  Most of all, I remember being afraid that the windows would crack, that the roof would fall in, that the lightning would strike and set us on fire.  I was only a little bird then, and I relied on my parents for comfort and consolation.

Now I am the adult, and I have been through many storms.  I still have respect for the one that is blowing today, because it is a strong one; but I have learned that storms pass and clear skies return.  I no longer have the feeling that the storm will go on forever.  I guess you might say that I am an eagle now; and being an eagle means taking to the sky and rising above the storm that rages below.  It means having perspective that we cannot find when we stay on the ground and feel overwhelmed.  This morning I take flight and follow the storm up the coast to my home.  I watch as it blows and wish I could be with the ones I love, if only to reassure them that storms do not last forever.  I watch the storm spin and blow and see that it moves from one place to the next.  What is wet and stormy today will dry tomorrow, and we will come away with the eagle’s view of yet another challenging day.

It is good to take cover in a storm and to keep safe and dry, but it also is good to test our wings and know that we are eagles who can rise to heights that give us another perspective.  When the storm is past, the eagle sleeps well, because he has seen it all from a place of great courage and confidence.  Stand strong.  Be an eagle.

“Ingratitude is treason to mankind.”

— James Thomson

As the hurricane moves up the eastern seaboard, threatening all that lie in its path with high winds and heavy rains, people are scrambling to prepare for the changes that might affect their lives this weekend.  Power outages could mean lack of refrigeration for food and no microwaves, ranges or appliances for cooking.  Air conditioning could grind to a halt.  Flooding could cause damage to water potability; and people are encouraged to have fresh water on hand in case they need to turn off the tap for a while.  Stores may close, limiting our ability to purchase food and drugs that sustain and protect life.  Possessions have been brought inside and secured against the wind that could carry them away.

How many of these things do we think of on an average day as the blessings that fill our lives with security, convenience, and bounty?  Our gratitude certainly swells when they are threatened; and we treat them as treasured possessions as soon as we think that they could disappear.  Where is our awareness of the abundance in our lives when there is no storm that might carry it away?  Where is our gratitude for the many small things that make our lives so simple and enjoyable and sweet?

As we prepare for the storm and think of the possibility of losing some of the things we hold dear, let’s take the wind and rain as reminders of the fragility of life.  Let’s make a pledge to cultivate gratitude on the calm and sunny days so that we are ever aware of how blessed we truly are.

“Ingratitude is treason to mankind”
James Thomson

“Whate we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.  But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.  I do not agree with the big way of doing things.”

— Mother Teresa

As Hurricane Irene spins up the east coast, with fierce winds and torrential rain, it is a good time to think about the drops that come together to fill an ocean.  When the hurricane pulls these drops into its vortex and sends them spinning in the wind, the result is something that gets our attention.  Last week, on a day when we were told to expect scattered showers, I drove through one.  Huge drops of rain fell heavily and left large spots on my windshield — ten of them.  By the time I started the wipers, they had almost evaporated in the morning sun.  Individual drops of water are like that — they leave a mark that we can see only for as long as it takes for the sun to warm the surface where they sit and send them back into the air once again.  When we notice the water is when many drops congregate in one place.

A puddle takes much longer to evaporate than the individual drops on the windshield of the car.  The torrential rain of the hurricane, with its many drops landing at the same time, can force us to pull the car onto the shoulder of the road and wait until the wipers are able to clear our view well enough to see the road.  The ocean sends drops of water evaporating into the atmosphere all the time, but its vastness never seems to gain or lose a bit of volume.

There is power in community.  There is strength in the common cause share by many.  As individual drops of love and light, we must never forget that we are not alone.  We must join our intentions with the others who bring peace and healing to our world and remember that our own small efforts combine with something much greater that any of us can be on our own.  We must celebrate the results of the community and be encouraged that the small part we play is crucial to the larger outcome.

As you send your own drop into the ocean, do not think about the brief summer shower that makes a small mark and soon disappears and is forgotten.  Think about the rain that is more than the windshield wipers can handle.  Think of the way it washes away the view of anything else.  Think about the small and loving contribution that you make today and imagine it being a part of a greater love that washes over your world and obscures the view of anything else.  Remember that being a drop in the ocean is not the same as being insignificant.  Being a drop in the ocean means being an integral part of something massive and powerful and beautiful and lasting.

We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.

— Walt Kelly

Often, life is defined by our attitudes.  How we view the events that happen colors the outcome.  Perspective is everything.

When the smooth-sailing of our daily routines is interrupted by something unusual, it can be tempting to feel angry, confused, or upset.  Quite often we plan the course we will travel toward our next goal, only to discover that the path is blocked by an obstacle that sends us on a detour.  If we can focus our intention on the destination and not worry about the path, we might find ourselves enjoying an adventure we had no idea we would experience.

Insurmountable opportunities — in retrospect, we often see that the obstacle we thought stood in our way really served as a guidepost to another route that showed us something remarkable about ourselves or about the way life works.  How different could your life be today if you saw roadblocks as directional signs rather than obstacles?  How exciting would it be when your plans are re-routed to think of scaling a huge opportunity rather than an insurmountable obstacle?

My sweetheart has a tagline that he adds to his emails — a quote from Shiv Khera.  It goes like this:
“When people don’t know how to recognize opportunity, they complain of noise when it knocks.”

Let’s open our eyes, take our fingers out of our ears, and bring a fresh new attitude to whatever comes our way.  Who knows what mountains of opportunity lie ahead?

“You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it.”

— Paulo Coelho

It is easy to be swept away by life.  There are times when events and experiences wash over us with such a swift current that we feel powerless to do anything but lose our grip on the shore and let them carry us away.  Sink or swim becomes our choice; and in that moment of fear and dread, it is easy to forget that there is a choice to be made.

Suppose you stood on the bank of a great river.  Suppose that the river separated you from your heart’s desire, and the only way to attain your passion was to step into the water and make your way to the other side.  It often seems that this is the case as we strive to walk the path with a heart and find our way to our life’s purpose.  We think we see the stepping stones that will see us safely to the other bank; but just as we step into the river a huge swell in the current knocks us under the water and we find ourselves racing downstream to parts unknown.

If we choose to live our purpose, there is a good chance that this sort of thing will happen again and again.  Each time we will find ourselves at the point of choosing — will we stay submerged and drown, or will we learn how to swim in the face of adversity and maybe even how to use the force of the current to help us reach our destination.  As a swimmer who competed in many contests in my younger years, I can say for certain that each time you swim, you develop your ability and build your muscles so that your confidence and strength grows greater for the races that lie ahead.

What is important is not when we reach the opposite bank.  What is important is that we keep on swimming and trust that the obstacles we overcome will prepare us for the day when we set foot on the new shore.  Falling into a river does not always mean that we are doomed to drown.  Sometimes it means we have been handed a wonderful opportunity for growth.  All we need to do is make our way to the surface and, once again, learn to swim.

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh.  After careful thought, Piglet was comforted by this.”

— A. A. Milne

Life can be scary sometimes; but far more frightening that what is happening in the present moment is our fear a dread of what might happen in the future.  When I was on vacation recently, with my two young grandsons, the three-year-old began to cry.  “What’s wrong, Gus?” asked his father.  “Oskar was going to hit me,” he replied, pointing at his five-year-old brother.

Perhaps he has had past experiences where his brother has clouted him; but in that moment there had been no hitting.  What worried little Gus to the point of tears was his fear that something bad might happen.  Suppose his brother did decide to give him a whack?  Suppose that something bad or scary might lie ahead?  Suppose that a tree fell down and trapped him underneath?

And suppose it didn’t?  As Gus’s father pointed out to him that his brother was on the other side of the room, as he called Oskar over to encourage the boys to play together, as he reminded them how much they love each other and forged the bond of brotherhood that led them off to share happy times, he put to rest his son’s fear and replaced it with something just as big — something that was made of love and comfort and caring.

The world can be a scary place.  One of the finest things we can do for each other is to step into the moment of another’s fear and bring peace, compassion and healing.  We have the power to present another view of the possibilities the future might bring.  Fear never serves us well until the moment when it is warranted.  We should reserve our fear for times when it is real; and even then, we should remember that we have the courage to face the frightening moment.

Suppose a tree fell on us.  Suppose it didn’t.  Remembering to consider the possibility that the outcome might be positive can make all the difference.

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

— Ray Bradbury

Welcome to a fresh new week.  Mondays are great times to set the tone for the days that lie before us — to decide what we, ourselves, will bring to whatever comes our way.  Today, let’s consider how very impossible it is that we are here.  Think about the universe that contains us.  It is infinite in size and constantly expanding beyond what we call infinite in each new second.  It is only our limited thinking that defines or contains the universe, because we are unable to understand the meaning of “limitless.”

In a tiny corner of that vast universe lies our solar system.  The sun, which to us seems to govern all of existence, is but a speck among many stars, many suns, and many galaxies that stretch into the infinite.  Our world is but a grain of sand on a never-ending beach that stretches far beyond our imaginations.

On that tiny grain of sand, in a moving spot no more than one yard square, each of us stands as proof that impossibilities happen all the time.  Think of the vastness of the universe and the impossible concept that our world might exist and support life in its tiny little speck of all that is.  Then consider the way that cells form and migrate and combine to create a human being.  It’s impossible to imagine the Mind that could align the hugeness of the universe and still attend to the tiny details needed to see that we even exist.  We are impossibilities.

A synonym for impossible is miraculous.  Let’s carry that with us into a new week.  You are a miracle.  You are an iota on a speck on a grain of sand on an infinite beach in an infinite universe; yet your life has meaning.  Imagine how we all are connected — from iota to speck to grain to infinite — and imagine that each tiny piece is integral to all that exists.  Like the cells that form and migrate and take shape to create who we are, our lives determine what the universe will grow to be.  Take with you today the knowledge that you are a miracle and that your life does matter.  You are a piece of the impossible.  Miracles are not accidental.  You matter.